Q: We are already experiencing mass quarantines in the first weeks of school, and I’m fearful that our average daily attendance (ADA) will be significantly impacted. How do I protect the ADA when students quarantine?
A: The 2021–22 year presents an opportunity to reengage students after nearly a year of distance learning and a summer recess. However, the COVID-19 Delta variant is causing many local educational agencies (LEAs) to address growing infection and exposure rates among students and staff, driving increases in quarantine cases. Before responding to your question about protecting ADA of affected students, it is important to remind LEAs of the current health guidance for schools from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) relative to modified quarantine requirements, which will help to limit the number of students subject to quarantine if faithfully implemented.
Quarantine for Fully Vaccinated Students
CDPH guidance allows fully vaccinated students exposed to COVID-19 to be exempted from quarantine and testing if they are asymptomatic. However, guidance requires students to wear masks, or face coverings if eligible, indoors while encouraging testing if students begin to experience COVID-19 symptoms. To access quarantine guidance for fully vaccinated students, click here.
Quarantine for Unvaccinated Students
CDPH guidance also allows unvaccinated students to undergo modified quarantine under certain conditions. Specifically, students who are exposed to COVID-19 when both parties were wearing masks and who were in close contact with a COVID-19 case (exposed for more than 15 minutes over a 24-hour period and within 0–6 feet indoors), may continue to attend school in-person if they:
- Are asymptomatic
- Continue to appropriately mask, as required
- Undergo at least twice weekly COVID-19 testing during the 10-day quarantine period
- Continue to quarantine for all extracurricular activities at school
Health guidance for unvaccinated students who were exposed when one or both parties were not wearing a mask differs from the quarantine guidance above. LEAs are advised to familiarize themselves with these important differences by reviewing the CDPH guidance found here (see numbers 8 and 9 under “Safety Measures for K–12 Schools”).
Using Short-Term Independent Study for Quarantined Students
Now, in response to your question, in the event that a student must quarantine to comply with the CDPH guidance, an LEA should work to ensure continuity of educational services to students. To do this, LEAs may enroll a quarantined student in short-term independent study as provided for in law. Not only does this approach ensure continued instruction and learning, it also provides the opportunity to preserve attendance for students during a quarantine period.
Short-term independent study is distinct from students enrolled in independent study for more than 15 school days in a school year (or long-term independent study) in some important ways, including that short-term independent study programs are not required to:
- Provide opportunities for live interaction and synchronous instruction
- Have a plan for tiered reengagement
- Swiftly transition students to in-person instruction upon request
Although these are important programmatic distinctions, law maintains the requirement for LEAs to generate ADA for students enrolled in short-term independent study through the time value of student work as evaluated by a certificated teacher.
Furthermore, law continues to require that signed master agreements be in place with all the requisite components before ADA can be claimed for a student participating in short-term independent study―no different from prior law nor long-term independent study. Obtaining a signed master agreement in the face of a quarantine is a daunting task no matter how you look at it, but the failure to obtain master agreements could result in lost funding even if the student is completing the appropriate work while quarantined since those agreements are required to be in place before ADA can be claimed. The impact will affect charter schools and county offices of education immediately because those LEAs do not benefit from the ability to use prior-year ADA for funding purposes. For school districts, the inability to accurately capture ADA in the current year may negatively impact their ADA in fiscal year 2022–23.
To avoid ADA losses because of the absence or delay in obtaining compliant master agreements, LEAs should consider obtaining signed master agreements as close to the beginning of school as possible and maintaining those master agreements on file―similar to the emergency cards or free or reduced-price meals applications. In the event that a student must quarantine, the signed master agreement is already in place, and the student can continue to complete and submit assignments during quarantine. If work is returned in accordance with the master agreement, and the time value of work is sufficient, the LEA can record ADA for the period the student was quarantined.
At School Services of California Inc., we recognize that this is an immense lift in the face of reopening schools, ensuring appropriate staffing, and maintaining the highest health and safety standards for students and staff. Each LEA should consider its own tolerance for lost ADA, and the prevalence of quarantine as a result of the COVID-19 Delta variant when deciding whether to collect master agreements ahead of time, or on an as-needed basis. Our hope is that every LEA is able to provide a continuous educational experience for all students while avoiding fiscal penalties because of missing paperwork.